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Edmunds Long Term Test. 2005 Cobalt.

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Why We Bought It

Chevrolet has never really had anything that could challenge the standouts of the economy-car class, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. When Chevrolet finally replaced the aging Cavalier with the 2005 Cobalt, our hopes soared. Now Chevy's import fighter had a more powerful engine, sharper styling and a promise of improved build and materials quality. Naturally, we were curious enough to put one into our long-term fleet.

We spec'd out a loaded 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt LT sedan. With leather seats, a moonroof, upgraded audio with XM radio and a rear spoiler, it listed for $20,100. With the employee discount and rebates we got it for $17,822.

Would this be it — the vehicle that would finally make our staff proclaim, "Hey, everyone, GM finally has a real competitor in this class"? Maybe.... Maybe not.... A year in our long-term fleet would give us an answer.

How It Drove

Like many mainstream GM vehicles, the Cobalt's chief strength is its strong yet economical powertrain. The 145-horsepower engine is among the most beefy in its class. And although the automatic transmission is a four- and not five-speed unit, the well-spaced gears and quick response make the most of the engine's potential.

Time and again, the positive logbook quotes centered on the Cobalt's performance. On a trip from L.A. to Las Vegas, Senior Content Editor Erin Riches found the Cobalt to be a capable long-distance cruiser. She noted, "Good midrange torque from the 2.2-liter engine and quick downshifts from the four-speed automatic transmission give it excellent passing capability."

While on a family trip to Yosemite National Park, Senior Consumer Advice Editor Philip Reed found the little Chevy willing and able to serve his needs. Initially, Phil was concerned about the comfort and luggage capacity of the Cobalt. But during the 672-mile round-trip, the rear seat's comfort was judged acceptable — not luxurious, but not a literal pain in the butt, either. Trunk capacity was not an issue, as the 13.9-cubic-foot hold swallowed "our three suitcases, three backpacks and an assortment of hampers, grocery bags and a cooking stove." Phil did fault the Cobalt for having a tight trunk opening, which made loading more difficult, and no pull-down handle in the trunk lid.

Facing various ascents, the Cobalt made a good showing. Although downshifts were frequent, the 2.2-liter four was up to the task of maintaining a 70-mph pace while fully laden with passengers and cargo. Phil was also pleased with the fuel-efficiency, as the Cobalt averaged 31.4 mpg for the completed trip. That's impressively close to the 32 mpg highway estimate displayed on the window sticker.

Although the Cobalt's handling performance isn't going to cause Mazda 3 engineers any sleepless nights, it managed a curvy road better than we expected. Phil noted on his trip: "While the steering feel is a bit numb, once I got used to it the twisting mountain roads became a romp. Very little body roll was detected at moderate speeds and the Cobalt felt confident and composed on a variety of terrain."

But while in interstate slog mode, the Cobalt suffered from a split personality. Although the well-insulated cabin kept road and engine noise well muted, our car suffered from excessive wind noise. Leaky rear window seals made their presence known at speeds over 50 mph, when wind howl would kick in. Senior Photo Editor Scott Jacobs said there was so much wind noise coming from the rear windows he thought one was open. Late in its tour of duty with us, the Cobalt's sunroof also developed a leak when it wouldn't close properly. We had the latter problem fixed, but the vocal rear window seals were not deemed faulty by the dealership.

Inside the Cabin

The interior of the Cobalt seemed to garner the most complaints from our staff. One editor noted that the Cobalt's backseat is one of the most uncomfortable in the economy sedan class. Another editor said the climate-control knobs feel cheap and sloppy and was amazed that there were no grab handles available for passengers or driver. A front-seat center armrest and a Pioneer stereo are nice features, but the Cobalt suffers from an abundance of hard plastic interior materials, inconsistent build quality and limited storage. Add in cupholders that are incapable of keeping a cup of coffee secure and the Cobalt's interior isn't going to win any hearts over from its direct competitors, the Honda Civic and Mazda 3.

Of course, the interior isn't all bad. We found some surprisingly thoughtful features in our Cobalt, such as full illumination of all steering wheel buttons, window buttons, power lock button and power mirror adjustment. The consensus was that the Cobalt is a distinct improvement over its Cavalier predecessor.

Summing Up

We had hoped the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt LT would challenge the imports that dominate this small-car segment. It is a pretty nice little car, but after a year and 17,000 miles behind the Cobalt's wheel, we don't think Honda, Mazda or Toyota have anything to worry about.

Surprisingly, the faults seemed to stem from poor follow-through and lackluster design. The powertrain was often praised. And even the fuel economy was above average. But in the build quality and touch and feel departments — those areas right in front of your nose every day — it was a disappointment.

Do good ideas cost more? Foreign carmakers have proved that intelligent design and follow-through on every level are possible. We hope that, while this GM product is a modest step in the right direction, next time it can go all the way.

True Market Value at service end: $13,656

What it sold for: $12,100

Depreciation: $5,822 or 32 percent of original paid price

Final Odometer Reading: 17,100

Best Fuel Economy: 32.8 mpg

Worst Fuel Economy: 17.5 mpg

Average Fuel Economy: 26.1 mpg

Total Body Repair Costs: None

Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 14 months): $138.38

Additional Maintenance Costs: None

Warranty Repairs: Inoperable sunroof

Non-Warranty Repairs: None

Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2

Unscheduled Dealer Visits: None

Days Out of Service: None

Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None

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Changes to the Chevy Cobalt LT Since 2005

2006: A new 171-hp SS trim level, which is available on the Cobalt coupe and sedan. Because this would cause confusion with last year's 205-hp supercharged SS coupe, that trim level is now called SS Supercharged. The remaining trim levels are also renamed: The base trim is now the LS, the former LS is now the LT and the previous LT sedan is now the LTZ.

2007: A few new audio systems and wheel styles debut; a three-spoke steering wheel replaces the former four-spoker and GM's remote vehicle start feature joins the options list.

Ups and Downs

Ups: Affordable, strong acceleration, smooth and quiet ride, solid brakes, good crash test scores, high fuel mileage.

Downs: Cheap interior plastics, cramped backseat, dire lack of interior storage, mediocre fit and finish.

The Bottom Line: An agreeable little car that is a step up from the Cavalier it replaces. However, it doesn't measure up to the competition.

Recalls and Problem History

Recalls: Exterior lighting. The bulb shield can loosen or break because of vibration. If this occurred on a headlamp installed in a vehicle, oncoming drivers may notice additional glare, increasing the risk of a crash.

Problem History:

1. Squeaky brake pedal, fixed using lubricant.

2. Stuck sunroof. The dealer repaired it under warranty but it broke again later.

Dealer Service Reviews

Albertson Chevrolet, Culver City, California

April 2006

The Cobalt had an oil change and tire rotation performed at 7,419 miles. We did have to wonder why it cost so much ($30 for a tire rotation and $45.72 for an oil change for a grand total of $75.72) but the service advisor was friendly and the work was performed quickly and efficiently.

Santa Monica Auto Group, Santa Monica, California

July 2006

With 14,274 miles on the Cobalt we took it in for an oil change and tire rotation, which cost $62.66. We also asked the service advisor to repair the sunroof, which would not open past a certain point. The sunroof was repaired but later malfunctioned again.

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Seems fair. While the mileage is good, it's nowhere near as impressive as our Prizm, which averages 40+ mpg and that's fully loaded.

213302[/snapback]

But your Prizm has not 145hp/155lb-ft torque.

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But your Prizm has not 145hp/155lb-ft torque.

213325[/snapback]

That's true, but then even with only 3 of its 5 gears (which is soon to be fixed) it never feels slow, and it sunds good throughout the rev range. Not thrashy or anything (unlike the Shadow's 2.5), and it cruises effortlessly at 70, 80...you know, whatever you can get away with :P

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I got 35.6MPG out of my automatic 2.2L Cobalt on a five-hour drive from LI to Cortland, NY, loaded with my father and a weekend's worth of luggage.

The back seat isn't bad, but then again I'm only 5-4. I wouldn't cram anyone much bigger than that back there.

What size cups do these guys put in the cupholder? I've used them for the big Cruiser cups (like the ones at Taco Bell), and I haven't spilled anything yet.

I don't usually carry much in my car, but I can see lack of storage being an issue. Easy fix for the '08 MCE: move the parking brake to the floor, and make a nice, deep storage console. The glove box is plenty big.

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But your Prizm has not 145hp/155lb-ft torque.

213325[/snapback]

i owned a Prizm for 3 years, by the end the lack of power was drivng me nuts. its not usable car.

Conversely, EVERY ecotec car I've test driven has impressed me with its engine and powertrain. And real world mpg of ecotec cars is great.

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i owned a Prizm for 3 years, by the end the lack of power was drivng me nuts.  its not usable car.

Conversely, EVERY ecotec car I've test driven has impressed me with its engine and powertrain.  And real world mpg of ecotec cars is great.

213402[/snapback]

Yeah, I'm happy with my car. I can live with a little less MPG, but there's a lot of power under the hood for a small car, unlike a Corolla.

Engine should have VVT though.

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Not an overly bad review, although as usual they would rather nitpick over hard plastics and small trunk opening, rather than focus on clear winners that the Cobalt does enjoy, like no huge hinges intruding into the trunk (like the Corolla) and a standards split seat that is reinforced (and not cheap material like the Corolla).

The wind noise and sun roof problem is a little wierd. People need to understand how stellar the fuel mileage on these things really are in real world driving conditions - 4 speed or not.

As to the cheap shot about the Mazda 3: their base car ain't the Belle of the Ball either. Atleast the Cobalt got a decent engine even in base form. You would have to have bought a GT Mazda to get anywhere near the standard power on the Cobalt - and even then you'd need the manual shifter or your gas mileage would suck!

I do agree that GM should have spent an extra few bucks on the door trim and a couple other areas. I guess Lutz can't win all the battles with the bean counters!

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GM should offer an economy version of the Cobalt. A 1.8 VVT might produce similar power and offer better economy.

213465[/snapback]

Ecotec with VVT and DI. No 1.8ls. Only one company makes a 4cyl 1.8l engine and they suck balls at doing it.

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Ecotec with VVT and DI. No 1.8ls. Only one company makes a 4cyl 1.8l engine and they suck balls at doing it.

213468[/snapback]

Fly, I thought there are two of them making it and both of the Japs.

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Ecotec with VVT and DI. No 1.8ls. Only one company makes a 4cyl 1.8l engine and they suck balls at doing it.

213468[/snapback]

Honda, Toyota, Opel, BMW, Ford, Peugeot, Citroen, Renault, Mazda do...

The Astra's 1.8T VVT Ecotec could probably fit in the Cobalt. It makes 140 bhp, which is only 5 less than the big 2.2.

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i owned a Prizm for 3 years, by the end the lack of power was drivng me nuts.  its not usable car.

Conversely, EVERY ecotec car I've test driven has impressed me with its engine and powertrain.  And real world mpg of ecotec cars is great.

213402[/snapback]

Funny, ours has plenty of power, and it's just the 1.6

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I'm not sure how they only got 31.x mpg. I owned the slightly heavier Malibu with the same 2.2l. I could count on one hand how many times I dipped underneath the 32mpg range on that car -- and it was typically a full week of stop and go and/or beat the piss out of it type driving. I grew so accustomed to my 34-36mpg in my Malibu that my current 2.4l Pontiac G6's 30-31mpg seems weak in comparison.

In all fairness, the G6 has *incomparably* better acceleration than the 2.2l Malibu. The G6 also hauls around 16in tires (compared to the Malibu's 15's) and the G6 is using the slightly heavier extended-wheelbase Epsilon.

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WTF is up with these "grab handles"??? Other than using them to help get into a taller truck/4x4, it seems that now GM is getting things right, it's their lack of Grab Handles that has the reviewers panties in a bunch.

AutoWeek did a quick take on the Aura and spent 1/2 of the article complaining about the lack of a passenger side grab handle. I don't get what is the need in a passenger car??

If you do want to hear about a domestic thing, here’s one: As we noted in the intro, the Aura doesn’t have passenger-assist handles in the headliner, a choice that was made in trading off costs. This is where the domestic automakers have a challenge, even when they match the other qualities of imports—their cost basis is so high that to be price-competitive, they have to make silly little compromises like that. What can it really cost to put a grip handle over the passenger seat? A quarter? Let’s say it costs 10 times that, and you want three of them. On its own, the decision makes no sense—just add $7.50 to the sticker and go with it. But saving a couple of bucks on 50 different items adds up, and that’s what happens. So we get this twin-cam 3.6-liter with all kinds of advanced tech, a six-speed electronically controlled automatic, a chassis rigid enough that the rear seat can fold down to expand the cargo area and then… what, no grip handle?

http://www.autoweek.com/apps/pbcs.dll/arti.../THISWEEKSISSUE

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I don't get what is the need in a passenger car??

213755[/snapback]

Hang dry cleaning, hold onto during hard cornering, etc. I know so many people who use them as passengers while driving, and I've been known to as well if there isn't a comfortable armrest handle on the inside of the door.

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I guess I never sat as a passenger in any car and said... "Gee I wish I had an "Oh-$h!" handle."  I don't even know if any of my cars have them.

213757[/snapback]

Well lots of info on the Cobalt. Newsflash- Cobalt Worset small car by Consumer Reports in todays paper. Whether it deserves it or not is not the problem. A lot of people that are not " car " people go by them and this is one more nail that GM does not need, Ford Fusion got high marks and the Headline of the article

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WTF is up with these "grab handles"???  Other than using them to help get into a taller truck/4x4, it seems that now GM is getting things right, it's their lack of Grab Handles that has the reviewers panties in a bunch.

AutoWeek did a quick take on the Aura and spent 1/2 of the article complaining about the lack of a passenger side grab handle.  I don't get what is the need in a passenger car??

http://www.autoweek.com/apps/pbcs.dll/arti.../THISWEEKSISSUE

213755[/snapback]

odd....even our 98 saturn has handles in front and back....

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WTF is up with these "grab handles"???  Other than using them to help get into a taller truck/4x4, it seems that now GM is getting things right, it's their lack of Grab Handles that has the reviewers panties in a bunch.

AutoWeek did a quick take on the Aura and spent 1/2 of the article complaining about the lack of a passenger side grab handle.  I don't get what is the need in a passenger car??

http://www.autoweek.com/apps/pbcs.dll/arti.../THISWEEKSISSUE

213755[/snapback]

It's just another reason to REINFORCE their bias... It's the same concept as bitching about how soft the materials are or the stitching of the headliner...

It's akin to two old women trying to out-do each other and one picking apart the other just for the sake of being better.

They *know* the import is better and they have to PROVIDE justification for themselves.

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